Home -> Other California History Books -> A Brief Guide to the Palace of Fine Arts - Panama-Pacific International Expostion - Post Exposition Period - Chapter 12

Previous Page Home
Up One Level
Next Page

Chapter XII
The San Francisco Art Association

The San Francisco Art Association, which conducts the San Francisco Institute of Art, and its School of Design, was organizcd on March 28, 1871, for the promotion and encouragement of art in the community.

It is an interesting fact—one in which San Francisco may take just pride—that this city thus organized its art work as early as New York or Boston—a striking testimony to the artistic energy of California. For the last forty-one years the Association has pursued its ends unceasingly holding exhibitions and lectures, maintaining a large and important school, and interesting itself in every art movement in the city and state.

After occupying the Museum Room of the Mercantile Library for the first year of its existence, the Association rented apartments at 313 Pine Street, where it remained until 1876, and then moved to 430 Pine Street. On March 4, 1893, it entered into possession of what was thereafter known as the Mark Hopkins Institute of Art.

This important change in its housing was brought about through the munificence of Mr. Edward F. Searles of Methuen, Massachusetts, the owner of the property referred to, and who deeded the buildings and grounds to the Regents of the State University in trust for the uses of the Art Association, under its commemorative title.

Superbly and most picturesquely located, this magnificent edifice was originally designed for a residence by the pioneer citizen whose name it bore. Well adapted primarily to the purposes for which it was used, the place through the further generosity of Mr. Searles underwent many changes, increasing its advantages as an art institute. Most notable of these was the transformation of one of the buildings into a home for the School, and the addition to the house proper of a spacious hall for the exhibition of pictures, known as the Mary Frances Searles Gallery.

The School of Design was founded by the Association February 8, 1874. It was equipped at the outset with a most admirable collection of casts, presented by the French Government in recognition of San Francisco's contribution to the fund for the sick and wounded soldiers of the Franco-Prussian war. To these were added by gift and purchase many other casts, together with all the paraphernalia necessary for a school of art. From the beginning the school won for itself an excellent name, being at one time publicly commended by Benjamin Constant before his class in Paris. When the School was established in the Mark Hopkins Institute with an able corps of instructors, the spacious buildings, beautiful grounds and adjacent art museum with its library and galleries, served to increase the attendance, and added to its field of usefulness during the next thirteen years.

Then came the great catastrophe of 1906, when fire following upon an earthquake devastated the city and laid the greater part of it in ashes. The Art Institute, museum and school buildings were destroyed, together with nearly all their contents; pictures, statuary, library, school equipment, the accumulations of nearly thirty-five years, were almost entirely swept out of existence. Owing to the isolated position of the Institute, and the precautions taken against any ordinary fire, very little insurance was carried, so that the monetary loss, as well as loss in objects of art which can never be replaced, was appalling.

Nevertheless, in spite of lack of means and the broken and disordered condition of the city following the catastrophe, the Association succeeded in erecting a building on the foundations of the former Institute and reopening the School with all its departments within little more than a year after its destruction. Such pictures and statuary as were saved were installed in suitable rooms and a new library begun. In view of the fact that the memorial buildings of the Mark Hopkins Institute were obliterated it was decided to call the Institute thereafter the San Francisco Institute of Art.

Realizing that the Panama-Pacific International Exposition has created the most profound and widespread public interest in art, the directors of the Association knew it to be their duty to so strengthen the membership and financial resources of the Association as to bring about the establishment of a permanent and thoroughly equipped museum and school of art.

That which had sufficed for San Francisco up to the magical year of 1915 had suddenly become altogether inadequate. The Exposition had literally created tens of thousands of lovers and students of art.

Therefore the Association invited the cooperation and affiliation of the San Francisco Society of Artists, an organization which in little more than a year had built up a membership of nearly four hundred, which included many of the most celebrated artists of the day in America. It was to the influence and energy of Arthur F. Mathews and Francis McComas that this great success of the young society was mainly due, but it would be far from just not to recognize the very vital part played by the Sketch Club, an organization of women artists which had done very fruitful work indeed in San Francisco, and which formed the nucleus around which the San Francisco Society of Artists was formed.

The San Francisco Society of Artists responded with sincere and characteristic zeal. Committees representing both bodies held a series of conferences which finally and most happily resulted in the amalgamation of the two organizations.

At the same time some fifteen to twenty of the most representative of the women's organizations formed an executive committee pledged to an active campaign to assist the San Francisco Art Association to enlarge its membership. As a matter of historical record, and one which redounds with great credit to the women's organizations of San Francisco, it seems proper to write down the names of those who form that committee, They are as follows:

Mrs. Joseph Fife, chairman; Mrs. Edwin Stadtmuller, Chairman of Art for S